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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Old Business Model or New?

   
Author Topic: Old Business Model or New?
Wannabe
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The way things are going, is it even still advisable to go the traditional route and seek an agent's representation? Or is it smarter to just self-publish and maintain full control and capture the larger royalty? It seems like that is fast becoming the way of the future.
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Meredith
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It depends.

It depends on what you want out of your writing. If you want to see your book in a bookstore or a public library, then traditional is still the way to go.

It depends on what you write. Middle grade, for example, still isn't very big in ebooks, though that will likely change over time.

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extrinsic
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The current publishing business model still favors traditional paper publication with digital and self-publishing auxillary and enhancing publishing practices. Traditional paper publishing practices enjoy broader distribution and marketing potentials than digital. The reason being there's more marketing push and consumer pull behind paper because it's been fully vetted over the centuries. Digital and self-publishing and POD are yet new and still shaking out quality and platform and marketing issue bugs.

Self-publishing has advantages over traditional publishing, but equally has disadvantages. a poor reputation being the major one, from limited prescreening for voice, craft, and mechanical style issues and questionable decorum, kairos, and audience appeals.

If the profit potential is a major deciding factor, then okay, go for self-publishing because it will be a learning and growing experience. But the return on investment will be minor regardless until a major breakout occurs. Then all bets are off.

It's worth noting that only about ten thousand English language fiction writers make a full-time living publising their works and the average annual income for them is only about thirty thousand U.S. dollars. That's about what the market will bear. Hundreds of thousands of part-time writers fulfill the other half of market demand, more so in the short story market. Roughly fifteen thousand new novels and one hundred thousand new short stories are published per year.

Now, if a writer's goal is publication to an audience for recognition and acclaim and building an audience following, the traditional route is still going strong, though there have been a few nontraditional success stories and more coming along.

[ April 24, 2012, 09:11 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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LDWriter2
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I've gotten into habit here of saying this but
I agree


This time with Meredith. Except I think mid grade is already changing. I've seen that age at the Nook booth at Barnes and Noble and I believe I read somewhere the number e-readers for that age has jumped. But it's still probably on the lower end.


But it just so happens that Dean Wesley Smith has a couple of recent posts that deal with this subject.

I was going to link a couple but he's got quite a few that deal with this one way or another including a ling to the Lawrence Block post Kathleen posted on another forum.

So if you have time just start at the top and scroll down and down and down. Some posts are kinda long and if you read the comments you could be there for days.

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com

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MaryRobinette
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First of all, "traditional publishing" is a derogatory term coined by PublishAmerica. There's no such thing because publishing is a constantly evolving industry. The more accurate term would be "commercial publishing."

Second. When you self-publish through a company like Amazon, you do not get royalties. You pay them a 30% commission for doing nothing more than having your work in their store. Further, if you check the terms of service, Amazon charges you an additional fee for the bandwidth it takes consumers to download your story.

Third: E-publishing is just a technology. Commercial publishers are pushing e-books just as hard as print books.

Fourth: A commercial publisher pays you, then does all of the work, except writing the book, for you. You don't have to give the money back, even if the book doesn't earn out.

What about self-promotion? You wind up doing that with either commercial or self-publishing. For my money, I'd rather have someone give me $10k to publish my book for me, then have them also spend the money to edit it, format it, and promote it than have to do that myself and THEN pay someone a 30% commission to do exactly nothing with the book.

When looking at someone like Dean Wesley Smith, it's important to remember that he is in a different category than a new writer. He already has an established following through the work he published with a commercial publisher. If he were trying to start out now? Hard to say, but the average self-published book sells only 150 copies.

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Nick T
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I'll ditto what Mary said and I'd do so even if she isn't who she is. IMO, there are ways of making yourself successful in self-publishing, but none of them are easy or provide any more surety than commercial publishing. If you're going to make it in self-publishing, you *really* have to know what you're doing, even more so than commercial publishing.
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LDWriter2
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There are ways to debate both sides but it's not just Dean, not surprisingly it's also Kris Rusch but also Michael Stackpole, the Passive guy and I forget his name but the indie writer with the Klingon sounding last name who has done pretty good, the head of Thomas Nelson Publishing and a few others.

And the idea is not for E-publishing to replace what is usually referred to as Traditional publishing but to give writers another option. One that has to be kept up. In other words you just don't do one e-book. You keep putting out books- which are always there, no reprints needed. And you remember it takes a whole lot more work to be a publisher than just a writer.

And I think the term Traditional is more about the model of the relationship between writer and publisher than how they publish. That has changed a few times over the years also but this model had been pretty much set for years.

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Foste
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Figure out what you want.

And then do both. Can't hurt to learn something from both roads [Smile] .

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MartinV
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I think there's a saying about this nad it goes: don't put all your eggs in one basket.
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Pyre Dynasty
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Extrinsic would you mind citing your source on those numbers? Stats like that could come in handy.

In any debate, and I'm not sure there has been a larger debate among the writing community, I find it's best to ignore the loudest screamers and the hyperbolists. The big houses are not going away, it is still very good thing to sign with them. At the same time I think more writers are getting satisfaction from their self publishing. This is made possible by technologies like POD and E-pub. (I would like to see the big publishers embrace POD more, I love the idea of the extinction of "out of print".)

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Brendan
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Thanks for your input, MaryRobinette. Given your role in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, it is great to see you on this forum. However, I would like to counter a couple of points you made above, and would love your continued involvement in the discussion.

Point 1: “Traditional Publishing”. As a scientist that has worked on new methods of manufacturing, I have no qualms in calling the typical manufacturing techniques “traditional manufacturing”. That is because the new methods don’t just create the same items in newer/cheaper ways, they have the ability to create items that are impossible using the traditional techniques, and additionally they have potential to leverage, even develop, new business models that are empowered by the technological functionality. Manufacturing too is an industry that may be on the verge of widespread disruption where, to survive, manufacturers will need to embrace the disruptive technologies and not simply be content to evolve via continuous improvement methods. (History is riddled with technology helping usurp entire industry models, leaving a wake of dying companies that failed to keep up.)

“Traditional versus new” is a great description to encapsulate the potential tidal wave of disruption that electronic technology has been unleashing on the publishing industry. The term “commercial publishing” doesn’t capture this transition, particularly the potential changes to business models that will, and have been developing as a consequence.

Point 2 – Amazon, Apple etc. Yes you do pay commission, but it is not for nothing – it is for access to customer bases larger than any other bookstores in the world, and that access includes systems that efficiently connect such customers to the products that they will choose. Furthermore, as it is commission, the upside potential is greater than the royalties from a traditional publisher, which are typically, what between 5 and 10%? (Of course, 5% of a million sale is better than 70% of a dozen, more on that in point 4).

Point 3 – “E-publishing is just a technology. Commercial publishers are pushing e-books just as hard as print books.” It is a disruptive technology that has, and will continue to change the industry. Many “commercial” publishers are simply running to catch up, after having looked warily at the technology from the side lines before it started to take off. And there is reason for their wariness. There is potential that these publishers will need to make some fundamental shifts in the way they do business as some of the barriers to entry into the field are undermined by the technology. It is not just the costs of physical printing that are reduced, it is the change in the distribution methodology and the vastly reduced inventory requirements that have lowered the risk profile of the industry, and that has opened the gates to new competitors.

Point 4 – “A commercial publisher pays you, then does all of the work, except writing the book, for you.” In this business model the publisher accepts most of the risk, and subsequently most of the upside as well. It does value add, with its marketing expertise and brand recognition among the reading community, but the barriers this model once gave the industry players are much reduced now.

For many published authors, the equation is simple: self publication has a high upside, but a low probability of obtaining that upside. So the value add by publishers more than outweighs the effective upside losses upon their success.

But a fourth fact enters the equation for unpublished authors - the vast majority of would-be authors have not been paid by any of the publishers. So the equation is high probability of zero success with a traditional publisher, along with a moderate return if successful, versus a high probability of very low success with self-publishing/ebook road, but a high return if successful. With this equation, which would you choose if you had your time over again, and why?

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extrinsic
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Pyre Dynasty, the sources are from industry insiders, Publisher's Weekly, other periodical articles, agent polls, Bureau of Labor Statistic, the U.S Census, R.R. Bowker's Books in Print, digest and journal indexing databases, tracking publications' outputs. publishing business models, Consumer Affairs sales statistics, and other compilers' reports.

The numbers I give are generalizations, constitute an opinion not a scientific method, and do not include all digital publishing stats. No one is tracking them yet, as if there is a way yet to track the explosion of digital publishing *, though anymore half of all English-writing writers self-identify as creative writers, according to a survey I came across attributed to Publishers Weekly.

The conclusions I draw, the explication, so to speak, are that the publishing culture is highly competitive, ever evolving while it stays the same, and constitutes a narrower per capita consumer base currently than in the heyday of publishing circa 1950, mostly due to declining fiction digest and journal circulation numbers.

* In a sense, a significant fraction of the Internet is made up of persuasive text. In that regard, the Internet is populated by creative writing publication. One of the as-yet undetermined social paradigm changes the Internet is influencing is reader skepticism. Past generations by and large trusted what was published purportedly as factual to be credible. Not anymore. Huzzah! What a world it would be if the majority thought conscientiously and critically for themselves.

[ April 30, 2012, 12:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Owasm
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I throw a few pennies into the mix. For me, an aging wouldbe writer, there is a time factor. I don't have fifteen years left in my life to be 'discovered'. The current method of getting into print through commercial publishing is very difficult and requires being in perfect alignment with an agent's tastes and an editor's tastes. If you aren't, you're probability of being published is nil.

That means you can wait until cobwebs cover your patiently waiting body or you can self-publish while you still dip your toe in the traditional world. (I like traditional better, actually, because Amazon and B&N are commercial enterprises.)

I want my stuff read and if self-publishing is the way to get my writing out there, then I will continue to sell 99 cent books until I get 'noticed'... even if it is to the few, proud readers who are willing to look at my work.

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Meredith
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For myself, I still want to get published "traditionally", but I've stuck my toe in the waters of self e-publishing for several reasons and some of them have to do with, perhaps, eventual success at the other path.

With e-publishing, I'm being forced to learn to market my writing. I'm not doing it very well, yet, which would surprise absolutely no one who knows me at all. Thing is, the only way I'll get any better at it is with practice and I can't practice if I don't have anything to market.

Marketing is something writers are being asked to do more for themselves even in the traditional publishing world, so I'd better learn how to do it.

Of course I'd like my self e-pubbed works to be successful in their own right, but I'm sure not counting on it. The good thing about self e-publishing, though, is that you can wait and let things build slowly. Here's hoping.

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LDWriter2
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I thought this post on Dean's blog could add to the discussion, note the comments

Earnings


And to add to my comments that I didn't have time to type.

There are a number of writers who are making it as indie writers and the number is growing with the number of people buying Ebooks. Last year Ebooks outsold paperbacks on Amazon. Yeah, at the moment there are still plenty of paperbacks selling but that does seem to be changing.

If you sell something you e-published you get to keep most of the money so for that reason you don't have to sell as many to make money especially if you have a continual growing list of books. Of course if you want readers you will probably get more going the traditional route. And the money won't be up front it will be over a period of years.

All of that should be taken into consideration. Which is why with my four novels I want to go both ways. One or two each way. [Smile]

But I was wondering over what period of time did the 150 Ebooks sell? Over a year? Ten years? Over the life time the writer has it up? And have most Ebooks been online long enough for that last question to be answered? (Shoulder shrug) I don't know about that last.

Of course it's taking a chance, you could put out ten books with all the effort the guy who sells his for 99 cents(Sorry forget his name) puts in advertising his books and still sell 150 each in ten years. Depending on the prices that could be around $500 per book which might pay for the initial outlay. But at the same time it looks like those who put that much effort into it will make significantly more than that over ten years. Especially if you write at least half way well and have books that are clean of nitpicks. And you might even get a call from a traditional publisher, some indie writers have.

[ April 30, 2012, 11:32 PM: Message edited by: LDWriter2 ]

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Osiris
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I look at this from the reader standpoint. As a reader, I do like the measure of assurance that a novel has gone through a rigorous process before publication, and for that reason, I've yet to buy any self-published material.

I'm certainly not saying that there is no good self-published material out there, but currently the consumer has only the authors reputation and user reviews to determine if a book is worth their time and money. An author with reputation is either one who has made a name via traditional publishing, or has sold enough through self-publication to be noticed. Otherwise, any diamonds in the rough are indistinguishable from other works. Reviews left by readers are not reliable, especially since many are planted there by friends of the authors, or done as some tit-for-tat exchange with other self-published authors. The only way I trust Amazon reviews is if their are dozens of them.

So for me, that gate-keeper role is important as a reader, and as a writer, I want to make the grade, too, so my readers will get the quality they expect.

Personally, I think self-publishing is great once you've built an audience. I do believe the traditional publishing route is the way to do that, and I don't believe in the idea that if one writes well enough, that they are still unlikely to be discovered.

[ May 02, 2012, 07:47 AM: Message edited by: Osiris ]

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Brendan
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Osiris, the gate keeper role is a critical one. But even that goes to the heart of how the industry has been changing, and change that may accelerate in the future. So, as any good sf author, I am putting on a futurist hat to look at our own industry - look at current trends to predict changes in the future - even to gatekeeping.

The traditional role of publishing houses has been to leverage the efficiencies of vertical integration - they once did everything from sourcing the authors to editing the manuscripts to printing to distributing to marketing and (usually wholesale) sales. Centralisation and vertical integration allowed large companies to outcompete smaller ones due to efficiency gains associated to size and the relatively high barriers to entry for smaller players, and subsequently branding became an additional barrier to entry. But two things have created the current dilemma.

Firstly, the rise of ebooks and POD have undermined the key advantage for traditional publishers, i.e. the high cost and risk associated to bringing a book to market and the efficiency of scale that large print runs provide. The rise of new players that exclusively use the new technology, such as Smashwords, leverage its efficiency to undermine the inefficiencies inherent in the traditional model. Additionally they can gain from new/growing markets at both ends of the scale, such as established authors sick of the low royalty levels, and wouldbe authors who are prepared to take the risk on themselves now the barriers of entry are lower. It's a bit like the pulp era all over again, before branding and efficiency pushed the small players out (which will potentially happen here, too).

Secondly over the last couple of decades there has been a trend to outsource various elements of the publishing house. This has given rise to the agent model, where agents represent authors (few larger publishing houses source their own writers anymore). These agents have been taking on a greater role in such functions as editing and making manuscripts ready for publication. Importantly, they are now the gatekeepers of the industry. So the intellectual capital of finding and dealing with authors are now in the hands of agents, not in the publishers.

Given that a key marketing advantage for the traditional publishers have previously been through their distribution network (e.g. people see their books at physical shopping outlets), a number of agents will (or already have) realise that electronic marketing is a different game - one which the traditional publishing houses haven't mastered. In the future, you will see agents bypass the publishing houses, directly marketing to the ebook distributers. Within 5 to 10 years, it won't be which publishing house you are with that matters, it will be which agent. (Perhaps that day is already here?)

This strikes to the heart of what I meant by changes to the industry. Traditional publisher still do have brand recognition, which they can leverage for some time to come. But some have already recognised the problems facing them, and started to adjust. For example, at least a couple are now attempting to take back some ground from the agents by sourcing authors directly. Others have been fighting the battle over pricing control with Amazon (a new industry player), in a role that is as much one of representing their fold of authors (new concept) as it is trying to maintain their ability to keep profitable. Still others may yet split or downsize into high volume printing houses or marketing arms, continuing the trend of specialisation and outsourcing.

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extrinsic
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All business models aside, one model remains constant: consumers. With the industry in a state of flux, writers providing quality products for consumption have opportunities to explore, and privileges to enjoy, and obligations to meet. Self-publishing writers have to get a whole lot better at writing, editing, revising, and crafting on their own to meet consumer expectations, and a whole lot better at self-publishing business and marketing practices if writers will take back ownership of their creations, which is what self-publishing is meant to be and digital publishing can accommodate. The same constant applies no matter the model, building consumer word-of-mouth buzz, Buzz, BUZZ.
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Osiris
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Brendan, I agree, the person who is holding the keys to the castle has changed to agents, since publishers rarely take a look at authors directly. So what I'm really getting at with the self-publishing deal, is that there is no gatekeeper, and until Amazon and other self-publishing venues do something about it, I won't dip my toes into self-publishing unless I am first traditionally published so that I can say that I made the cut.

One business model that keeps coming to my mind, and I don't know if it exists, is one centered around the idea of an author house, or a collaborative, in which the authors hire the editors to ensure their work is the best it can be before approving it. This I think has inherent problems in that an editor hired by authors will be motivated to approve work to please their employer.

Another idea is one that works a bit more like a traditional workplace. A group of authors comprise a department, which produces the work before passing it on to an editorial department to vet their work. Rather than have a straight reject/accept model, the editors are tasked with either accepting the manuscript and well, actually editing it, or sending it back to the authorial team to rewrite it. When the piece is ready, it is then sent through the pipeline until a finished product results.

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